. . . shell peas.
A couple of days ago (or maybe it was many days ago, because you know how time flies when you're spending quality time in the kitchen with boat loads of fresh produce . . . day after day after day), Kristina at Pioneer Woman at Heart asked me if I would explain how I planted, harvested and preserved my shell peas.
This kind of post is one in which I could start talking and not realize when to stop so please excuse my verbosity. I would have been a terrible teacher because when I try to answer a question or explain something, I seem to feel I must impart every single bit of knowledge concerning the subject that I have stashed away in my wee little noggin. Being concise and to the point is difficult.
However, putting these thoughts of my inadequacies aside, let's talk peas.
Next to sweet corn grown in our garden (which is a moot point since we cannot successfully grow sweet corn in our garden here in northern Minnesota), fresh frozen shell peas are our most favorite vegetable during the winter months. Lucky we are in that we can grow those little, round, green gems here in northern Minnesota.
I regularly plant Lincoln peas . . . an old-fashioned, heirloom variety that does extremely well for me. When we lived in Illinois I planted them there, too, so I'm assuming they do well in many climates. Every few years I get the notion I should try another variety that offers outstanding qualities (according to those gorgeous seed catalogs that lure you right in), but inevitably I go back to the good ol', tried and true Lincoln pea seeds.
Supposedly it's not absolutely necessary to plant peas with a trellis for support, but it's been my experience that they grow better and produce more peas if you do trellis them. Plus (and who wouldn't opt for this), they are so much cleaner and easier to pick when in an upright (both you and the peas) position.
I love cattle panels for trellises and that's what I use for my peas. Cattle panels are initially a tad expensive, but they last forever even when stored outside in our long, snow-filled winters. They come in 16' lengths, but for ease of handling, we cut ours into 8' sections which are plenty heavy enough to (wo)manhandle around the garden. The panels are 52" high. I stake them up using a length (about 6' long) of rebar which has been pounded into the ground at each end of the 8' section, and then tying the cattle panel to the rebar.
I till up the soil on either side of the cattle panel trellis with my handy-dandy Mantis tiller. I gardened for many, many years without this wonderful tool, but looking back I don't know how I did it. It makes a seed bed that can't be beat. When the seed bed has been prepared, on each side of the trellis I plant pea seeds in two staggered rows, the first one about 1" out from the trellis, the second row about 1-1/2" farther out from the first row. I just push the peas seed about 1" down into the soil and bring the dirt back to cover the hole and pat it down. I do this along the full 16' of the trellis. Then I go to the other side of the trellis and do the same thing.
To harvest enough peas to last through the winter for the two of us, I always plant two 16' trellised rows, the rows 4' apart. With peas planted on either side of each trellis that comes out to 64' of shell peas. Yes, a bit of garden space allotted just to peas, but if I want enough of them that's what I have to do.
The pods growing on the vines will mature to the proper size (not all at once) over a period of about three weeks. (At least in our locale that's the timetable.) It's important to keep the peas picked or the vines will stop producing more peas.
I'm a real stickler when it comes to getting a crop from garden to freezer (or canned) in the shortest amount of time possible. With so many vegetables, the moment they are picked the natural sugars start changing to starch (which, of course, we don't want to happen) so I try to move as smoothly and quickly as possible to get the peas processed and in the freezer. (I never can peas, but always freeze them. We think the fresh frozen peas taste just as good as ones straight out of the garden . . . even in February!)
I bring the picked pea pods inside and remove the peas from the pods. This takes time, but it's a perfect opportunity for visiting if you have a friend who offers to help (or kids you can coerce into helping), listening to an audio book or watching a good program you recorded from TV.
The shelled peas go into a blanching basket. Mine is a well-used wire contraption once used for hot oil frying, I think.
The whole basket of peas is carefully lowered into a pot of water which has been brought to a rolling boil. I blanch the peas for a carefully timed one minute and thirty seconds.
After blanching any vegetable, you are advised to cool it as soon as possible (thereby stopping the "cooking" process) by submerging in ice water. The water from our well is very, very cold so I hold the basket of blanched peas in a big bowl of cold water while running more cold water over and through the peas.
Then the peas are dumped into a colander and left to drain for a few minutes.
All that is left is to package them for the freezer. One and one-half cups of peas is the right amount for a meal for the two of us. I fill small sandwich size bags with the measured amount, lay the filled bags flat on a cookie sheet and put into a freezer until frozen solid. Then I package the individual bags into a gallon freezer bag and store back in the freezer. Whenever I want to serve peas with a meal, I reach into the freezer bag and pull out one of the smaller bags, drop the contents into water in a small saucepan until the water boils. Peas are done, drained and seasoned with a pat of butter before portioning out onto our two plates.
I usually aim for having about 40 servings of peas in the freezer to get us through from late fall to early spring time. This year I currently have 37 servings in the freezer and don't plan on getting any more from the vines that are left in the garden. (As you can see from the picture of the two peas rows above, my vines are pretty well spent and starting to turn yellow. I'm hoping to let some of the "over-matured" pods dry on the vine and use them for seed next year.) Harvest of the peas would usually have been earlier than it was this year, but our very cold spring and early summer challenged everything in the garden and set it back a bit.
Hope this helps explain, Kristina, how I grow and preserve my shell peas. Anybody still reading? Yep, I did use lots of words and perhaps say more than you wanted to know!
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